They are a rare breed. In this age when everyone believes in joining a coaching institute (estimated, according to a 2008 study, to make up a R10,000 crore industry), some students have enough faith in their abilities to manage studies on their own and get admitted to some of the best higher education institutes in the country.
One of them is Suyash Roongta, who is pursuing an integrated MTech degree in computer science and engineering at IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Delhi.
With 94.5% marks in Class 12, this Ahmedabad boy got All India Rank 539 in the IIT Joint Entrance Examination (JEE).
“The educational environment in Ahmedabad is not as competitive as in Delhi. Half of my classmates joined a coaching institute but I wasn’t tempted and thought I could study on my own,” says Roongta. He feels it’s a “waste of time going to a (coaching) centre. You also have to study as per their schedules. A few of my friends tell me that the coaches cover the syllabus too quickly. Self-study meant I worked at my own pace and devoted more time to subjects or topics I found difficult. And of course, I saved on travel time to a coaching centre – half an hour to and fro every day.”
The going wasn’t smooth in the beginning. “In the first four months into my Class 11, it was very difficult to motivate myself because I had no goal, no tests, and no deadlines. I was lagging behind my friends. Then I decided to buckle up. Whenever I was stuck with a problem I would consult my friends who had enrolled at the coaching institute and others and soon I got my confidence back,” he recalls.
Faridabad girl Pushpa Jha, who couldn’t afford private coaching for the JEE, focused on NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) books.
She also persuaded older friends to lend her the booklets and notes they had got at their coaching centres. Self-study required discipline, and time. “Every time I studied a topic I couldn’t capture everything on first reading. So, I had to go through it two to four times,” says Jha, now a textile engineering student at IIT Delhi.
In her case, “supportive” teachers at school also counted. “They were focused on the Board exams but whenever I asked questions, they were helpful enough to take them,” says Jha.
Studying without coaching is as much about capability as it is about self-motivation and willingness to stay the course. Roongta says he had seen some of his buddies give up and join coaching classes after they could not cope with the self-discipline required.
Always have faith in yourself, he advises. “Sometimes, my classmates wondered if I would be able to pull it off on my own. But I didn’t doubt myself for a second,” says Roongta.
Sitting at IIT-D’s Shivalik Hostel lobby, Roongta’s face brightens as he recounts how he managed to take up the programme of his choice – something that is not easy at the IIT, especially as a BTech in computer science is fiercely competitive. Though he was granted admission to the five-year Integrated MTech programme in mathematics and computing, Roongta made the switch to his preferred course after he managed a good score in the first year.
“I have never for a minute regretted my decision to sidestep the popular route to professional colleges. The feeling of having done it on my own supersedes the disappointment of not getting into BTech in computer science, though I am doing what I want to – an MTech – at the moment,” Roongta adds.
You don’t have to sign up with a full-fledged coaching centre to achieve success. Prateek Khanna, an eighth semester student, University College ofSciences, Delhi, says he only went for private sessions with his school teacher. “I quite liked science subjects but after Class 10, couldn’t decide if it should be engineering or medicine. So, I prepared for both engineering and medical entrance tests,” says Khanna, who ranked 215 (open merit) in the Delhi University entrance test. “When you join private coaching classes, you need to choose just one or the other stream. And I believe only you yourself can ensure your success.”
Khanna says that at school, classmates who attended private coaching academies, “used to know a little more,” but when it came to solving questions they were at par with each other.
It works if your conceptual foundation is rock solid. And it should work in anybody’s case, says Khanna. But he sounds a cautionary note: “The environment is changing.” Some extra guidance could be necessary for students preparing for important entrance exams.
None of these students trash coaching centres. “You shouldn’t take the risk. If not for the content, then at least for the approach,” says Khanna. Jha, an IAS aspirant, says she would like to go for a coaching course for the civil services exam “instead of losing one or two years”.
Professor, teaches 1st-year MBBS students at University College of Medical Sciences
No disconnect between NCERT books and PMT
Studying at a coaching academy is analogous to passive learning — a lecture by an authoritative teacher with 50 students. That teacher teaches what is and what is not important. He doesn’t teach for learning. The emphasis there is on scoring. When such students get into the MBBS programme, they have a deep lacuna in their knowledge. They can answer straight questions but you go beneath the surface, and there you are.
One of the things I’d say for aspirants is that they should be task oriented, not time oriented (don’t go by others’ claims of studying for more than seven hours or 14 hours a day). Do the best you can.
I don’t see any disconnect between these competitive tests and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks. I think NCERT books are enough. Try to especially do problems which you learn yourself (called problem-based learning), such as, ‘observe 10 plants and see which insects or animals visit and what kind of pollination takes place’ and ‘Wind- and water-pollinated plants do not have colourful flowers and do not produce nectar.
Many students skip these questions. Here are a few more suggestions for students.
. When studying, the emphasis should be on understanding and clarifying the concept rather than on rote-learning.
. Visit the Science Museum, the National Museum of Natural History and the Children’s Book Trust library.
. Watch Animal Planet and Discovery channel.
The views expressed by the professor are personal As told to Rahat Bano
From academics and an industry insider
Professor of mechanical engineering, IIT Delhi
They come like ROBOTS
Personally speaking, I don’t like the idea of private coaching. Students don’t learn anything at coaching centres. They are just coached to crack the test.
In our induction session, when we wanted to know which students had qualified for admission on their own, only a couple of them put their hands up. Some of those who have studied at coaching institutes are like robots when they join us. If you ask them a question that requires some thinking, they can’t do it.
The thinking process becomes dull. It takes them some time to get back into the habit of thinking. Some of students don’t ever get back into that thinking mode. Sometimes you get in purely due to guess work in the entrance test.
Dean of medical sciences, University of Delhi
ExPosure to MCQs helps
This matter is not under the purview of the dean of the medical faculty. We don’t even know which student took private coaching. All students come through a combined entrance test. However, my personal opinion is that extra coaching may be helpful but the effort put in by a student is most important. Though the entrance question paper is totally based on the CBSE syllabi, it helps to have some exposure to the type of questions asked in the entrance test because the pattern is different from that of the board exam. Your concepts may be clear but in a competitive test, you have to do the paper in a limited time and there may be negative marking as well. Competition is so tough today. Even in our student days in the 1970s, most aspirants went for private coaching.
Is the current selection method satisfactory? I don’t think so. In such papers, you have 200-300 MCQs to be solved in three hours. A lot of alertness and presence of mind is required. I think there needs to be some counselling at the school level to guide students about what is required for a career in medicine.
Course director IIT/JEE, TIME (coaching institute)
20:20 vs test-players
These entrance tests are becoming smarter. Nobody can crack them just by tricks. Knowledge is akin to the nucleus of an atom. An atom can’t exist without a nucleus. Unless your core is in place, tricks wouldn’t work. There’s no substitute for fundamental training. Coaching is necessary for everybody taking the tests. It’s not just knowledge being assessed there but also its application.
I partly agree on the point that students who attended coaching institutes are like robots. Institutes such as the IITs are ‘test-playing nations in international cricket’ but we have students who are like 20:20 players also getting admission there. Therefore, they have adapted to that. The IITs are changing the question patterns in an attempt to make sure only test cricket players filter in.
I think there’ll always be some genuine talent that make it to their portals on its own.